Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia road trip were spent in Sevilla (Seville), previously and today one of the world’s most important cities.
This is #5 of seven articles from a journey to southern Spain. It is diary based.
This blog post starts with a map of this part of the car trip, continues with the plan we made before leaving and finishes with what we actually did. Read the introduction to this trip.
The Plan (= my best tips to Seville)
Next step is to Seville (Sevilla in Spanish) and two nights in this great city. While the previous two days were active, we will allow ourselves some more relaxation here.
1100 – 1200, Jerez de la Frontera – Seville
It takes an hour to drive the nearly 100 km inland. In Seville we will be two nights in a hotel without breakfast, but in the middle of the city and with a rooftop pool. Check in is after 1200 so we can spend some time eating breakfast in Jerez and maybe even a swim in the pool before we leave the hotel. Check out in Jerez is at 12 noon.
The hotel in Seville is called San Gil. (Parras 28, Casco Antiguo, 41002 Sevilla. Free Wi-Fi in public areas). It is a lovely place, but located 2-3 km from the famous sites. The street Calle de Feria or something like that is a main street near the hotel. Buses to the centre stop there.
1200 and all through today and tomorrow, sightseeing and accommodation in Seville
Seville is a UNESCO-listed town and beautiful as few others. The most beautiful about the city is said to be the narrow streets and small squares. Besides this there are two important monuments; Alcázaris Seville’s “Alhambra” and then the great Cathedral. Along with the Archivo de Indias these two are Seville’s contribution to the World Heritage List. An important part of the atmosphere in the city is all the churches of the Baroque period, including one very close to our hotel. In 1992 Seville hosted the World Exhibition EXPO ’92 and there are interesting structures on an island in the river.
- Walking the picturesque narrow streets, especially in the evenings, is probably something we should treat us. Our friend from Seville mentions this and says that the city changes character at different times of the day. I read in one of the guide books that Seville is primarily atmosphere. The main area along Calle Sierpes is always teeming with life, as are the bars along the river Calle Betis and on the small squares in the centre where it is eaten tapas.
- Our friend “M” believes it is well worth taking a trip with horse-drawn carriage from the Cathedral, along the river (where one passes the Moorish tower, Torre de Oro) to the Parque de Maria Luisa. It is a beautiful park with typical Andalusian tiles. It also provides shade and the park seems cool in the heat. The main attraction in the park is the Plaza de España.
- From what I understand of “M” it is possible to go sightseeing on a river boat.
- The Cathedral and the old Moorish palace (Alcázar) are found in the former Jewish district Barrio Santa Cruz. There are also other historical monuments here (The Archives and the bullring, among others).
- The cathedral is Gothic and one of the largest in the world, only behind St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St Paul’s in London. It features the world’s largest altarpiece, paintings by Goya, and Columbus is buried here. Seville’s landmark, the cathedral’s tower, is a former Muslim minaret, La Giralda. The tower is 93 meters high and climbing it means walking up a ramp, not on steps. Bring drinking water for the ascent! Great view from the top.
- One can enter the palace Alcazar through the Lion Gate. Parts of the palace is still used by the Spanish royal family. The palace is said to be beautiful. (Read more about the palace in the guidebook)
- The Roman period was also important in Seville’s history. If we have time we can experience this, amongst others the Roman wall.
- Some of us might be interested in a visit to the city’s art museum, Museo de Bellas Artes (Plaza del Museo 9).
- The world exhibition EXPO ’92 was built a few kilometers from our hotel. The architecture is dominated by the opera and a futuristic bridge. This is seen from La Giralda, the tower of the Cathedral.
- Perhaps we can make an effort to hear and see flamenco. Flamenco as spontaneously and authentically as it was danced and entertained in the past, is rarely seen today. Flamenco is now shown in more organized forms such as concerts and special places for tourists. We’ll probably have to settle for the latter. Several such places are mentioned in guide books. My Lonely Planet guide from 1997 mentions Los Gallos in Plaza Santa Cruz as the best. They have shows between 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.. Most popular on TripAdvisor is Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus.
“M” (see the extra-extra part below) says we must follow the times for meals that are practiced in the city i.e. lunch at around 14-1500. It is most important to follow the time for dinner. There is virtually no dinner to get before nine or half past nine at night! Seville is one of Spain’s most important cities of tapas, which represents much of the atmosphere, according to Lonely Planet. There are bars serving tapas of every description. We should try a little of what they have to offer. “M” send suggestions for tapas places and places to eat that she knows and likes. Drinking gazpacho says “M” is a must in Seville. Probably cooling.
Tour-variant (10:59) complete with the guide’s comments. The next one is in Spanish (12:35) and the third is a simple and almost nice little thing (2:19). So a few notches up in quality (13:54). Quick andnice one here (2:00). Here is a higlight (5:30) for us tourists. The next has fast cutting and catchy music(0:53).
A friend who actually is from Seville very helpfully sat down and offered us this advice:
Since you are going to stay for two days I just gathered some few tips all around within small distances so it is easy to have a look whenever you fancy. Maybe it is a good idea that you check out on the Internet in advance so you can decide whether to mark them in your map or not.
- Iglesia de San Luis: This church is close to your hotel and it is in your way to the downtown of the city.
- Iglesia de San Lorenzo. This church is placed in a beautiful neighbourhood; I loved the square where it is settled. In springtime all this part of Sevilla smells wonderfully when the orange flowers are in blossom.
- Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena
- Iglesia del Salvador
- If you are going to visit the Cathedral and the Alcazar (they are very beautiful places) it is nice that you wander around a little bit the Barrio de Santa Cruz. I’m just marking in italic letters some places that are very nice to see:
- Patio de Banderas – Calle Juderias- Plaza de Doña Elvira (this square is really lovely for a rest. It has benches and orange trees, there are a couple of restaurants here).
- Callejón del Agua (there is a house with an amazing “patio” that usually is opened so you can have a look from the entrance; in the same street there is a restaurant quite charming due to the courtyard but you will not find locals there, it is expensive and the good food is not the thing but the atmosphere.
- Jardines Murillo – Plaza de Alfaro – Plaza de Santa Cruz
- It can be very nice to get a ride in a carriage from the Cathedral to Maria Luisa Park and see the Plaza de España.
- Other places to visit: I’m skipping museums but including historical buildings with beautiful insides to discover.
I´m just suggesting restaurants nearby of the main sightseeing places so if you feel hungry you can pop in without starving during a long walk. They are mainly “tapas” restaurants.
- Casa Roman. Very close to the Hospital de los Venerables that I suggested above for sightseeing. Very nice jamón Serrano.
- La Antigua bodeguita. If you visit the Iglesia de Salvador in the same square it´s located a very popular (and usually crowded) bar for having some tapas (you can also get “montaditos” a sort of bread with nice topping) with a morning beer. The thing is to get your beer and drinking it in the street. It is really nice for having a break at noon.
- Casa Ricardo. Nearby of Iglesia San Lorenzo. This place is famous for its “croquetas” just try them!
- Casa Morales: Very close to the Cathedral. This is a classic place in Seville.
- Ovejas Negras: I haven´t been there but a friend recommend this place very close to the Cathedralas well. Ask for salmorejo (one of my favourite cold soup during summer, when I´m in Seville I mainly feed myself with salmorejo or gazpacho)
- Bodeguita Antonio Romero: Nearby to the Plaza de Toros (Bullring).
- Hotel EME Sevilla. If you want to indulge yourselves at the end of the day with astonishing views of the Cathedral I would highly recommend going to the terrace of this hotel. There is a resturant-bar where you get wonderful views of the Cathedral lit in the night.
- It is also very nice to cross the bridge Puente de Triana and get a view of the other side of the river, it is really beautiful. The Betis street is plenty of restaurants where you can eat “pescaíto frito” (fried fish). Despite not having sea, in Seville there is tradition to fry really well the fish, it is not oily just crispy.
- The “Kiosko de las Flores” used to master the technique. I remember have eaten there wonderful fried fish tapas (the variety is impressive) but it has become very pricy because the tourism and not sure if they keep doing it so well (none of friends and family have been there lately and the places where they use to eat nice fried fish are quite far from your itinerary and located in ugly parts of the city). Maybe you can check out reviews on the Internet. It has a terrace with very nice views to the river and the Torre del Oro.
- You could also ask the locals to show you in the map where you can get the best-fried fish in the area. You cannot leave Seville without tasting it.
Hola, me podría decir donde podemos comer pescaíto frito muy rico por aquí?
Hi, could you tell me where we could eat very nice fried fish nearby?
Moving from Jerez to Seville
Despite all the self-made plans and suggestions from a local, our itinerary was not carved in rock. As a matter of fact we only had a set of loose ends of what to do in Seville. That flexibility came in handy as stomach trouble hit part of our group of five.
The day started in Jerez de la Frontera at our hotel. We had talked about taking a swim in the garden pool but it was closed in the morning. Instead the three children used the indoor pool and we all had a long, good breakfast.
The road to Seville was fast; at some point we did however miss the fastest motorway (E5/A4) and had to swing back and forth a bit on the N-IV before we found the right one. In any case time passed quickly over the rolling landscape northwards from Jerez. I was surprised to see so many olive fields; this is a big industry. Is there really a market for all that?
Driving into Seville – not easy
Approaching Seville we were once again tricked by the road signs and ended up on the big circular road in the opposite direction of our plan. Being a circle we eventually were able to turn off the main road at the right place. Our Google Map prints were however very good to rely on once we turned into town and entering a more detailed level than our Michelin map of Andalusia could offer.
Hotel San Gil is situated in the northern part of the city centre, in the Macarena district. That district is full of narrow, one-way streets and we missed on the first attempt one particular turn to the right. On our second attempt we missed the hotel entrance by a few meters, but were able to unload our baggage on an adjacent street corner without being interrupted by other traffic. A receptionist joined me in the car and directed me to an underground car park a couple of hundred metres away. I was not going to use the car until we were leaving two days later.
Anyway, the hotel turned to be very nice indeed. We were given two mini-suites with separate bedrooms. The lobby area is wonderfully Andalusian with its very characteristic décor. Due to the stomach trouble of the lady in the party the rest of us settled for a lunch in the hotel restaurant. That proved to be a good decision and my selection of tapas dishes was very good indeed.
The first twelve hours in Seville
That afternoon we did little more than sunbathe on the rooftop and dive into the pool up there. It was a really nice relaxation in particular for the children.
As the hours went by the diarrhea trouble several in the group were struggling with began to fade. We prepared to leave the hotel to find a restaurant in the Macarena district but ended up on a table in the hotel patio. The reason was a flamenco performance that was due to start in a few minutes. We had a rather basic tapas dinner and enjoyed the traditional music and dance of southern Spain.
As our plan verify we were actually looking more for a flamenco club to watch “real” performances. The setting of watching a group of performers touring the various hotel establishments in the regular tourist season is not what we had envisioned. On the other hand the clubs seem to be staging performances very late at night, we had not so interested youngsters with us and most importantly the health conditions were not the best. Fortunately we were positively surprised.
Into the tree-filled open patio inside the hotel appeared a female singer/hand-clapper, a male guitar-player and the lady performing the dance. The show lasted for perhaps 45 minutes. We are not at all experts, but they did a really good job. It was an intense performance and certainly not the muzak one is accustomed to in dinner restaurants. This was first of all a flamenco performance.
An evening walk
This first half day was then almost over without us seeing one bit of Seville, we felt. We were hoping for a better day tomorrow but I and the boys went out to look around in the neighbourhood. We walked over to the Alameda de Hércules. This is a lengthy rectangular square or park. Late at night it was filled with people and a lot of children playing. It was obviously a place for all ages. The Alameda has restaurants and bars all around it. We sat down for a pizza and walked home. At half past midnight there was no sign of others leaving the place.
A morning walk
I returned alone to the Alameda the next morning. At half past eight is was empty. A couple of lovers were sitting on some steps, and at a corner restaurant staff was starting to carry out tables and chairs for yet another day. I had to admit to myself that the square was more interesting at night so I merely crossed it and went another few blocks until I met the big boulevard circling historic Seville.
On this point this broad avuenue runs parallel to the Guadalquivir River. That river is one of the longest in Spain, and perhaps the historically most important one connecting both Cordoba and Seville with the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that the river was navigable contributed to a very large extent to making these two cities inland so important for Romans, Moors and later Spanish monarchs.
Across the Puente de la Barquete Bridge I faced the Isla de la Cartuja (strictly speaking it is a peninsula). That is were a lot of pavilions still stand after the World Expo twenty years ago. I did not cross the bridge as the area is quite large and I wanted to return to the hotel but I did notice a number of presumably innovative pieces of architecture on the island.
Back at the hotel my family was still asleep so I went for another couple of rounds in the streets of Macarena, our neighbourhood, using my video and photo camera. This Sunday morning I came across a small supermarket and bought food for breakfast. Our hotel rooms came with no breakfast included so I made it easy for us. The ham I bought turned out to be very good, in taste something in between Serrano and the black type known as “Jamón Ibérico de Bellota” (acorn) although of a lesser quality. (We bought an exclusive pack of the Bellota with us home and it was absolutely fantastic. Some say it is the world’s best ham.)
Sightseeing in Seville
I urged the others in my group up and out and fortunately the stomach trouble was not as troubling as yesterday. We found a bus on the Calle Resolana not far from the hotel. Number C3 turned out to be a bus perfectly fit for tourists because it circulates around the entire historic Seville. We took that bus back from the centre later in the afternoon making it a full circle and again in the evening going back downtown again for dinner.
We paid the bus driver 1.3 euro each and sat down eager to finally get to know some of this world-renowned city. Near the Puerta Jerez we left the bus and after a quick orientation we went off in the direction of the cathedral passing the Archivo de Indias. As I mentioned above these buildings represent two of the three constructions on Seville’s UNESCO World Heritage List inscription. With 80 million pages of documents from the Spanish New World conquest and later this quite modest Renaissance palace has more to show than meets the eye of the casual passer-by. We were of the latter category and continued past it.
The monumental Catedral de Sevilla was huge naturally, being the third largest church in the world. It boasts the world’s largest altarpiece but it was unfortunately covered when we were there, due to restoration work. In addition we missed the alleged Tomb of Columbus as there was a service going on in that part of the cathedral. The cathedral is big and important, and its exterior is fascinating. However its interior is dark, lacking the splendour found in smaller cathedrals. All in all it was quite disappointing.
In the heat of the day we skipped the walk up the Giralda tower on the side of the cathedral. At this point we did however not stop to rest but continued on to the royal palace of Alcázar, the third building complex on UNESCO’s list. The queue on Plaza del Triunfo outside the Lion’s Gate, the entrance to the palace, was not by far as long as I’ve seen on pictures. We went inside to get what was an experience of a lifetime.
The royal palace
The Reales Alcázares de Sevilla was absolutely fantastic. Whatever you may read about its splendour, its beauty, its magnificently adorned hallways, ceilings, patios and gardens comes nowhere near what you see when walking through the palace. I hope my (upcoming) video and the photos here can render at least some of the impressions we got.
“Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville” is no. 383 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This video is from the royal palace, the Alcázar.
Over to something completely different
The palace was built as a fortress by the Moors and was expanded by the Kings of Spain in the centuries to follow, clearly inspired by the style and taste of Moorish architecture (this is called mudéjar architecture) and parts of it remains today a residence for the Spanish royal family.
By now we felt obliged to satisfy a very basic human need. We were hungry and after some searching we hunted down one of the places recommended by “M”, the Casa Morales. Described by her as a classic place in Seville we too enjoyed a meal here. Spanish hams are good!
On a horse carriage
Another of M’s recommendations was to take a horse cart around the historical centre. I have for years been sceptical to such a means of transportation relying more on my sandals than anything else. But now we were five, the centre of Seville is large, and the youngest in the group was adamant about getting up on that carriage. We were not disappointed. It was a perfect way for exploring the part of the historic Seville that this fixed-price trip offered us.
The carriage took us down to the Guadalquivir River past the Torre del Oro which is an old Moorish tower on the river bank supposedly deriving its name from some gold on its top. It has served as a watchtower, prison and now as a museum. The disadvantage with a horse carriage on a fixed price is that it doesn’t stop along the way. We forced one exception to that rule a little later.
The carriage led us past the glorious Palace of San Telmo near the river, then turned away from it and passed by a number of splendid buildings from the The Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The participating countries did not spare anything to build one extravagant pavilion after another. We also passed by the once largest tobacco factory in the world, now housing the university. I have never seen such a decorated factory anywhere.
Plaza de Espana
From reading we knew that the highlight of the Exposition would be Plaza de España. First we took a round trip of the large and shaded María Luisa Park. If we had more days in Seville this would have been a great place to return to relax. Now we went through it on the horse drawn carriage right up till thePlaza de América, turned back and “forced” the driver to make a longer than usual stop at the Plaza de España.
It was such an incredible plaza I have never seen the like. The Spanish pavilion is not what you would imagine a pavilion would be like. It is huge and it was designed in a Renaissance (revival) style and contains a row of buildings on a semi-circular layout. In front of the buildings is a moat in which one may rent a boat, and a number of beautiful bridges. A large fountain in the centre of the square sprays generous amounts of water high up in the air. All Spanish provinces are displayed in tiled alcoves along the walls.
We ran wild with our cameras.
The Plaza de España was built as the Spanish pavilion for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a splendid half-circular court.
Back to the hotel and a walk in Macarena
After this the horse cart took us back and we jumped on the omnipresent bus C3 back to our hotel. This time we finished its circular route as it crossed over the Guadalquivir River into the Gypsy neighbourhood of Triana, switched back again and went up along the river past the Isla de la Cartuja to the district of Macarena where our hotel was located.
Here we split parties. Some (the young generation) went back to the hotel. The rest of the group of five entered the Basilica de la Macarena, or should I say Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Macarena (Our Lady of Hope Macarena). This church close to our hotel contains one of the most important objects in Seville, the wooden statue of the Our Lady of Hope Macarena. It is prominently featured on the annual Holy Week procession in Seville. Any other time of year the statue is placed in this church.
We split again. The lady went to find the Iglesia de San Luis. It was closed for restoration works but the exterior looks lovely from her pictures.
Last night in Seville
We had in our planning documents described Seville as a city of atmosphere and exciting streets. Illness had yesterday effectively halted our plans but this night we wanted to get a sense of what the city has to offer. We took the same bus back downtown and went looking for the Barrio Santa Cruz district. According to our guidebooks this is it: A perfect place to spend the night.
We may have missed it. We first took the bus (C3) a stop or two too far and ended up on the Trianaside of the Guadalquivir River. That wasn’t as bad as might be suspected. We just backtracked across the bridge and admired the floodlit river banks. We headed for the Cathedral, equally floodlit at night, and found the streets behind it. This is where we met the disaster, or close to it. The interesting restaurant streets did not stretch for many metres. Furthermore they were only for tourists. Consequently this area was devoid of interesting food and human beings after eleven of clock that evening. This was a huge contrast to last night at the Alameda de Hércules where locals dominated the street scene.
This was clearly a mistake and presumable other parts of this district are better than the one immediately behind the cathedral.
Last words from Seville
By now the stomach problems had vanished and we were optimistic about the continuation of our tour of Andalusia. Tomorrow we were off to Cordoba and Granada.
My conclusion is that Seville deserves a visit lasting more than the (less than) two days we had. There is so much to see of its great past and so many more things to do (perhaps more at night than during the day) than the circumstances allowed us to do. It is rare that I conclude on wanting to return somewhere, but I would not hesitate a moment if that opportunity was to arise.
Video from Seville
“Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville” is no. 383 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This video is from a sightseeing tour of various parts of the historic centre, starting with the cathedral.
All chapters in this series
This post is #5 from my Andalusia road trip in 2012. Find all articles in this series below.
- Introduction: We had a fantastic 15 days’ vacation in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia making the classic golden roundtrip to the famous cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. And a lot more.
- Malaga, Marbella and Ronda: The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda.
- Ronda, Gibraltar and Jerez: On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
- Tangier: Day 4 in Andalusia is a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart.
- Seville: Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia tour were spent in Seville, previously and today one of the world’s most important cities. (THIS)
- Córdoba: We visited Córdoba on Day 7 of our stay in Andalusia. This day we were on the move from Seville to Granada and stopped for a few hours in extreme heat in this former Moorish capital.
- Granada: Days 8 to 15 in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast.